On a business trip to Rochester about 15 years ago, I was walking through my hotel lobby and noticed the headline on the city’s daily newspaper, “Aging urban churches are being born again”. Intrigued, I bought the paper. I was hearing then, what we continue to find common place today, mainline church attendance has been in a steady decline since the 1960’s. Yet, here was something that showed how a change of thinking followed by congregational action had reversed that trend across denominational lines.
The article included heart warming examples from the city’s Baptist, Methodist, Catholic, and Presbyterian churches of the uniting of the memberships to rediscover serving their immediate neighborhoods. One Catholic priest witnessing this growth said, “Yet the question and the challenge is to realize it is not always about numbers. How can we help solve urban problems? How can we reach out and be the presence of Christ?”
Since then I have actually kept a file with this article and others that document the discovery of new vitality and growth in churches. They illustrate the role spirituality and religion play in vibrant, whole and healthy communities.
It has been interesting to see the- golden thread running through all of the experiences shared in these articles. It seems consistently to be a reorientation of purpose from what might be called a “self-serving/edifice preservation” view to a congregation collectively praying and working together to be a blessing to their community. Just a note here, in every case I’ve learned about, lasting progress was not because of a one time or once a year effort. It was a regular daily prayer over a period of years to embrace their neighborhoods in practical, healing, helpful ways. This brought greater harmony among the memberships, a revitalization of their place in the community and steady growth to their congregation.
Last summer my husband and I were on vacation in North Carolina. Normally teaching Sunday School on Sunday mornings in our own church, it was a treat to attend a worship service at First Church of Christ, Scientist, Asheville. During a few minutes of general announcements, came one that was not mundane. The membership was being reminded of their commitment to pray daily for the children of Asheville. Afterwards, members tenderly greeted a young mother who had sat through the service with her baby in her arms. Her two older children bounded up full of joy from the Sunday School. A member told me this family was new to the church, perhaps because of committed prayer.